Friday, April 25, 2014

Drip Irrigation : Be ready for maintenance

Over the years, several users have inquired about pros and cons of drip irrigation. Though there is abundance of published information from an academic and marketing perspective, I will try to elaborate it from a practical perspective based on our experiences.
  • There is no doubt that drip is more efficient in terms of water usage. However, it comes with a cost. Such costs should be evaluated in the context of the intended crop and the value of the produced output. Often installation can become very expensive, especially for vegetables since laterals are closely spaced.
Typical Drip Irrigation System schematic
  •  Though drip irrigation requires less labor during irrigation, it requires manpower to maintain the system. This involves frequent cleaning of disc filters, periodic flushing of sub mains and laterals, checking of drippers for water flow and regular check for leaks. In our experience, it takes about 2-4 hours for 1 person to check and rectify leaks etc on a 5 acre Mango UHD plot. Obviously, it is subject to number of corrections to be done. We perform flushing, drip checks almost every other week.
  • Dissolved salts in the water pose a significant challenge with drippers getting blocked. Though online drippers are easier to clean, inline laterals are almost impossible to clean manually. Acid flushing is recommended by experts, however it is not easy to procure acid in open market in wake of the recent acid attacks. 
Standard assembly between water mains and drip line
  • Consideration should be given to the local geography and fauna. Rocky soil can hard on the laterals after a while. Often small ruminants or dogs may chew laterals which will immediately need replacements. At Savera Farms, we experienced pea cocks punching laterals for a quick shower during our hot summers!
  • In India, there are subsidies available by state governments for small acreages and NHB for a plantation project, but most of these programs may not be feasible for small or hobby farms.
  • If you are considering using 4 LPH drippers for irrigation, I would highly discourage from using them. They easily get blocked since the cavity in the drippers is smaller. You are better off using a 8 LPH dripper and decreasing your irrigation time by half. 
Hopefully, this helps and look forward to others adding their feedback and perspective to this list.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mango Cultivation : Effects of Chloride Toxicity

Last month, we did a water analysis for all our bores. While most of the parameters were normal, Chloride toxicity was significant in a few borewells. Typically, an acceptable reading is of 10 meQ/L or lesser but we recorded upto 12-13 meQ/L in a few water samples.

Given the soluble nature of chloride, it is not adsorbed or held back by soils. Therefore it moves readily with the soil-water, is taken up by the crop, moves in the transpiration stream, and accumulates in the leaves. If the chloride concentration in the leaves exceeds the tolerance of the crop, injury symptoms develop such as leaf burn or drying of leaf tissue. Normally, plant injury occurs first at the leaf tips (which is common for chloride toxicity), and progresses from the tip back along the edges as severity increases. Excessive necrosis (dead tissue) is often accompanied by early leaf drop or defoliation. With sensitive crops, these symptoms occur when leaves accumulate from 0.3 to 1.0 percent chloride on a dry weight basis, but sensitivity varies across crops. Many tree crops, for example, begin to show injury above 0.3 percent chloride (dry weight). In established trees, there may not be visible effect. However, long term effects can lead to reduced yield and poor quality of fruits. 

Reducing high chloride levels can be a challenge since there is no fool proof filtration system. Since blending good quality water is often not an option where borewell is the primary source, increased application of green manure and organic matter can buffer the effects of toxicity to a considerable extent. It would be great to hear from others who have experienced chloride toxicity in their plants and were able to successfully mitigate the adverse effects. When fixed assets like borewells and soil present such constraints, knowledge to reduce such impacts becomes invaluable!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pilot Effort for Fresh Mango

You may recollect earlier this year, we were looking for farms to procure mangoes from in a bid to establish marketing channels. The rationale behind this was to establish reliable, robust and hopefully loyal customer base for next year when we expect to harvest our first large crop. 

The exercise was rich in experience with a lot of insights in the entire supply chain from farm to fork. Apart from the good experience, the entire process was very time consuming, which involved co-ordination with farmers, logistics, interfacing with potential clients, direct retailing etc. As a result, activity on the blog from our end was fairly limited in the last couple of months. Some of our loyal followers even called / mailed us due to drop in blog postings, we appreciate your concern.

We transacted about a total of 10 tons of Banganpalli and Imampasand this season. A total of 15 farms were visited, of which we zeroed down on 3 farms in TN area. Our initial plan was to deal with farm owners directly in order to reduce procurement costs. Unfortunately, in most of the farms, the owner was not in a position to transact directly with the buyer. Farms were contracted out to contractors who had a good network in the mandis. In essence, they maintained the crop during the season and then sold the produce directly themselves or through their affiliates. So when we bought the crop from them, it was at par with the mandi rates. Of course, we demanded selective harvesting and rejected fruits with blemishes.

Generally, contractors are well staffed and harvesting, sapping , washing, drying and packing 2 tons of fruits per day is feasible in a day. This may not be the case when procuring directly from the farmers as they may not be aware of the harvesting protocols. When you have a couple of tons of produce in your warehouse, daily inspection for rotten/overripe fruits is a must. It is labor intensive but important to reduce additional wastages. Green fruits with higher metabolic rate will ripen naturally, so its essential to grade them in time.

Fruits to be graded and washed

Washing in process  

We used Etherel to ripen our fruits. Unlike calcium carbide, it is considered safe and is in line with international standards. The down side of the former is that it takes more time. Nonetheless, we were willing to wait longer than compromise on the fruit quality. After the initial experiments, we concluded that fruits at 1ml/L concentration, when dipped for 3 minutes gave the best result and ripened in 3-4 days. The concentration was way off from the “recommended” dosage from “experts” online and in some of our horticulture institutes. Lesson learnt – do the trials yourself and ascertain what works for your crop.

Always pack green fruits in gift boxes because you do not know how long will the customer keep it in his possession before gifting it out. We packed at 80% ripeness, assuming that they will be consumed in a day or two. On the contrary, the customer kept it for 5 days in a locked room of Chennai heat. When he opened the box, it was not pleasing to the eyes.

Drying and packing 

All set to be loaded. 

Direct retailing is not easy. It is time consuming and you need a team to support the logistics and operations. We did some retailing in an IT park in Chennai and the experience was fairly good. One gets to interact with customers and also experience some strange incidents.There was one person who wanted to get a bill because he wanted to “bill” the expense to his IT contractor. There was another person who came rambling the next day, with an upset stomach, after consuming 3 kgs of mangoes in the entire course of day. Unfortunately, we did not have a remedy for him!

For the most part, many buyers do not have an idea on how to choose a good mango. Most picked up fruits that were attractive looking rather than right maturity for consumption. Sometimes, the novices would be accompanied by their “expert” friends who would view and smell every other fruit with a discerning eye, but eventually pick a fruit that would not do justice to their expertise. Once I told a person to pick a fruit that should have been well ripened but had some blemishes on the skin. He replied that he does not feel “satisfied” if he purchases fruits with light blemishes.  
You will also come across people who are determined to buy fruits accurate to the third decimal point. They will try all the permutation and combinations to get to that elusive 1 Kg mark. 

Overall, the entire exercise was successful, having established good supplier and customer base. We may repeat it next year if there is a need to procure more mangoes next year. If you have a farm within 200 km from Chennai, do drop us a mail at .

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pomegranate cultivation - Yay or Nay...

We have been mulling over the idea of planting a couple of acres of Pomegranate as a pilot this year. Just wanted to touch base with the blog followers if they or somebody else they know is knowledgeable about cultivation aspects of the crop.

There has been a sudden increase in cultivation, awareness and consumption in the last few years and may be it is a good time to jump into the 'pomegranate bandwagon'. Although Maharashtra is a leader in cultivation, TN is in top 5 states in India. There is limited information online, which makes it hard to research upon.

One of our followers is planning to plant this season. I would appreciate if others could share information as well.